We hear you: you’ve got your volunteers in the door, but how do you keep them coming back?  Volunteer retention is a crucial part of any charitable organization, but sometimes it can be tough to manage.  We’ve done some legwork to dig up seven effective strategies for keeping volunteers happy and helping.

Show appreciation.

There are so many benefits to volunteering that volunteers are generally happy to serve.  But, they still need to know that you are thankful for them, and that your cause couldn’t be helped if it weren’t for their dedication.  Both small and large appreciation efforts are effective, and a healthy combination of the two will help keep your volunteers returning.  Some ideas include:

  • Thank them – personally.
  • Post “thank you” signs on your storefront and at events.
  • Host annual or semiannual volunteer appreciation parties.
  • Publicize volunteer efforts within your organization’s community.
  • Highlight individual volunteers or volunteer groups through established communication methods, such as newsletters, emails, and social media.

Motivate volunteers with specific, actionable tasks.

Lofty lines, like “help us change lives,” leave potential volunteers unconvinced and uninspired.  Consider specific duties that volunteers perform for your organization, and call people to action.  For instance, if your organization serves meals, motivate volunteers by saying, “Help us prepare and serve meals to 200 homeless veterans,” instead of “help us feed the hungry.”  Volunteer retention will be more successful if volunteers clearly understand the communal benefits of volunteering with your organization, what to expect and how they can help.

Highlight volunteers’ impact.

Help volunteers see exactly how they make a difference.  For example, use established communication methods to recognize how many hours volunteers have served or how much money (or clothes, or canned goods, etc.) they helped raise.  Also, tell volunteers how lives have improved because of them.  This is where you can report information specific to your organization’s mission.  If you partner tutors with at-risk kids, report how many of those kids are now passing in school or how many are now in college or employed.  Specific details help volunteers see the change they are making and continue serving.

Tell stories and create an experience.

A key factor of volunteer retention involves making volunteers feel like they are part of a larger story.  In addition to highlighting the hard data of volunteers’ impact, engage their emotional investment by showcasing particular success stories.  Maybe a volunteer served a hospital-ridden family their first home-cooked meal in days, or maybe a group provided the residents of a crisis shelter with brand-new slippers and cozy blankets.  Stories such as these help volunteers feel a human connection to their service.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Make sure you keep in touch with volunteers regularly.  Respond to their inquiries quickly, and use that as a chance to remind them of upcoming events.  Also, establish routine communication, such as weekly email blasts, daily posts on social media, or individual phone calls or texts. Effective communication shows volunteers that you care, and it consistently reminds them of your cause and how they can help.


Check out MobileServe CEO Ben Reno-Weber, in a pre-recorded webinar as he outlines how to transform volunteers into ambassadors.


Watch Webinar


Create a community of volunteers.

A great way to improve your volunteer retention rate is by nurturing a community spirit.  Online tools, such as social media groups or discussion forums, can be helpful, but fostering a face-to-face community is typically more effective.  Take simple steps to help volunteers make connections within your group:

  • Organize them into groups according to similar interests.
  • Lead fun ice-breakers or teamwork exercises at training events.
  • Introduce volunteers to each other and help start a conversation.
  • Hold informal social events, perhaps at a coffee shop or local park. If you encourage volunteers to bring a friend to these relaxed meetings, then you’ve also found a way to recruit future volunteers.

Understand why your volunteers are there.

Volunteers show up at your door for a variety of reasons: a belief in your mission, a desire to give back, or an interest in practicing skills.  It’s important that you understand what motivated them to choose you, and how they wish to help.  Some volunteers have no interest in applying workplace skills to a volunteer setting; rather, they see your volunteer opportunities as a chance to unwind or enjoy something different.  Other volunteers want to practice new skills, hoping to use the experience to obtain a better job. The better you are at keeping your finger on the pulse of volunteer motivation, the better your volunteer retention rate will be.

Related articles:

With a focus on storytelling and engagement, MobileServe makes retaining volunteers easier for you, while making tracking and sharing experiences fun for volunteers.


Learn More


Subscribe to Email Updates